Arrowvale Campground and Collins Farm hosted its annual Maple Syrup Festival on Sunday, March 3, drawing families to the farm on Hector Road to get an up-close look at how bigleaf maple syrup is made.
Visitors strolled the farm on Sunday, visiting the petting farm and enjoying maple treats in the cafe. Meanwhile, Bob Collins demonstrated the syrup-making process.
The Collins family has been bottling up maple syrup for around 13 years, he explained on Sunday, but the industry is still a “relatively new” one on the west coast. Maple syrup can be made from any kind of maple tree, but bigleaf maple trees are the most common on Vancouver Island.
“We use the bigleaf maple,” Collins explained. “It has a more robust flavour.”
Bigleaf maples grow from northern California to the mid-coast of British Columbia, which makes the syrup relatively unique. “This is the only place in the world they have them,” said Collins. “On the Pacific Coast.”
Collins works out of the sugar shack on the farm, feeding a wood-fired cast iron stove in order to boil the sap. The sap, which sits at about two percent sugar content, is boiled until the sugar content reaches 66 percent. Approximately 40 jugs of sap makes one jug of syrup. Collins collects about 15-18 litres of sap per day out of each tree, but the amount is weather-dependent. The trees need a winter freeze in order to get a heavy volume—in 2010, the warm winter meant that the Collinses made no syrup.
It’s a slow process, said Collins, but it works.
“There’s no additives,” he explained. “It’s just the syrup.”
The Collins Farm isn’t the only place in the Alberni Valley cooking up syrup. Hupacasath First Nation started their own bigleaf maple syrup venture with Kleekhoot Gold in 2015. Production for Kleekhoot Gold is now underway for the 2019 season and is available for pre-order.